Monday, April 29, 2013

Mercer Cafe

2619 E Westmoreland Street
Philadelphia, PA 19134
(215) 426-2153

After my visit to Swiacki a few weeks back, even with all of the generous tasting samples, I still had a hankerin' for some comforting breakfast food – nothing cures the hangover like an authentic greasy spoon.

After hearing the gleaming recommendations of Ed and his co-workers, we drove the few blocks south to their go-to neighborhood spot, Mercer Cafe. It has a welcoming family feel to it, and with a pharmacy attached to its side, people were coming in and greeting one another from all angles.

They serve La Colombe coffee and do a bit of coffee-shop-style-to-go service at the counter. They also have a section of the menu called "Neighborhood Favorites" where you can get cheap breakfast combos (including coffee) starting at $5.50.

I'm always a fan of S.O.S. (creamy chipped beef) - if it's on the menu, it's definitely getting ordered.

This version came just the way I like it, on white toast with a side of home fries. You can ask to add sautéed peppers and onions to the potatoes for a small additional fee ($.50), which again, I'll always order, if offered.

Look at the consistency on this gravy. It was perfection. The seasoning was spot-on, with just the right amount of salt and a hint of black peppery bite. The chipped beef was sliced paper thin and melt-in-your-mouth tender.

The home fries were also just right, with a few charred bits throughout and the peppers & onions still had a fresh crunch. It's good to get the extra vegetable fiber in where you can.

Being the lover of sandwiches that I am, I couldn't pass up their build-your-own breakfast version on a long roll. They offer kaiser, toast, bagel or croissant too, but when I hear that there's the option of anything on something that came out of Liscio's Bakery, I'm taking that, hands down. Their long & seeded rolls come from Liscio's (the rest is Le Bus) - I appreciate the attention to quality components.

Three eggs with bacon and roasted long hots. And a little pineapple.

Now, I'm not saying that I don't like a good slather of grease on my sandwich. Hell, a drizzle of melted butter here or there never hurt nobody. But this. This was maybe a bit too much for my liking.

Not that I didn't eat it, because I inhaled it. It was delicious. Delicious and messy. I had to wash my hands immediately upon completion, but it was worth the slippery struggle in every bite.

It's a great neighborhood, with great people and great home cooked food. Definitely swing by Mercer Cafe when your travels find you up on Westmoreland.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Dim Sum Garden REDUX

59 N 11th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 627-0218

It seems like I never actually plan on going to Dim Sum Garden. It's not that the food isn't desirable, it's quite the contrary, but the location is so sheltered in its tunnel under RTM's overpass, I usually forget that it even exists.

I'll be passing through Chinatown and in a quick fit of hunger (sometimes non-hunger, just for fun) I stop here to quench my thirst for their succulent soup buns. To my surprise, they've kind of cleaned up their act since my last visit. They've spruced up their decor with some new furniture and even replaced the dated sauce containers.

I started with the very refreshing cold cucumber plate.

It was clean and crisp with thin-sliced chunks of cucumber tossed in a light vinegar sauce. I added some of the provided ginger sauce and hot pepper oil to taste and created my own level of spice. Delicious.

Next was the scallion pancake. Just your standard pan fried version, but at $2.50, ordering one is pretty much a no brainer.

Here again, I use my own combination of ginger soy sauce, vinegar and hot pepper oil to garnish. It was a little oily, but isn't that how they're supposed to be?

And the pièce de résistance...

Shanghai steamed pork juicy buns (8), $5.25.

I could eat 16 of these little beauties, no question about it. Use your chopsticks to get one onto your spoon, drizzle a few drops of vinegar, a bit of ginger soy sauce and a pinch of hot pepper oil on there. Bite a piece off the top, get that baby opened.

Add another drizzle of each into the hot, porky soup and take another bite. Get ready to slurp in some of that broth as you bite through the steamy dough into the tender pork ball.

Two bites each and you're in heaven. What a flavorful mid-afternoon snack!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Swiacki Meats

3623 Salmon Street
Philadelphia, PA 19134

I was recently contacted by the much loved Swiacki meats about an article I had written a couple of years ago. They wanted me to try some new products, and invited me up for a visit. I was obviously flattered and got there as soon as schedules permitted.

This place is tucked away in Polish-centric Port Richmond and is, without doubt, a true Philadelphia treasure.

If you want any sort of Polish meat product, don't fear, you've come to the right place. Old school and friendly, it's the kind of place I hope is around for perpetuity.

One thing to note is the difference between fresh sausage and smoked sausage. The fresh should be boiled for about 10-15 minutes then grilled, while the smoked version can be kept whole or (preferably) sliced up the middle to create a flap and thrown on a (charcoal) grill.

The "hot and cheesy" are a new item, and they were my absolute favorites. I mean, spicy, smokey, cheesy sausage is impossible to beat.

This is Eddie, who contacted me with the invite. He said that some readers told them about my initial review, and it drove them there. That makes me about as happy as I can possibly get, truthfully. Eddie is an amazing guy, who took the time to show me where the magic happens, while slicing off tasting samples of meat right out of the smoker. The fact that it was around 10am was irrelevant, and my hangover was (almost) instantly cured.

Below are the smoking racks with freshly smoked kielbasa ropes just hanging around. It's a good thing Eddie was there because I would have been mighty embarrassed to be caught trying to smuggle these out to my car.

This is the meat grinder. It is from another time, that has long since past, and they have to get an old school machinist do the maintenance and repairs. This thing is literally irreplaceable and so majestic. Simply amazing.

What do you use to mix ungodly amounts of freshly ground meat? Answer: this thing. Just awesome. It means so much that the rich history of Swiacki's authenticity is present in everything that they do - from the equipment all the way through to the personal interaction.

Here is Eddie giving instructions as to how things should be reheated, including the insanely good pierogies (available with fillings from farmers cheese to cheesesteak) and the ready-to-bake frozen golumpkis.

They even have lunch meats like fresh smoked ham and freaking kielbasa loaf. Yes.

From left, smoked kielbasa, skinny spicy cheese, and regular spicy cheese.

I can't say enough about this place. It is truly Polish heaven. Many thanks to Eddie and the staff for an amazing visit and for the generous sampling of products. Please, go here and see for yourself.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Cacia's Bakery & Primo Hoagies

Ritner & Mole Streets
(between 15th & 16th)
South Philadelphia

Any time I take a trip down south of Snyder, I find it hard not to hit the amazing couple of blocks on Ritner just west of Broad. Here's where you can get a slice of pizzaz, a top-notch Italian hoagie, a ham pie and a dozen cannoli's - just to name a few, all at 4-6 neighboring old-school establishments. Two of my absolute faves: Cacia's and Primo's.

I'm no stranger to Cacia's, it's like visiting your grandmother, if your grandmother lived in a bakery. They're beyond friendly and never turn down a special request - like baking a 6 foot long roll for your 6 foot hoagie party, or making a big frisbee loaf for muffaletta because the Saints are in the Super Bowl.

But I digress. There's no special order this time, just getting down and dirty with some pizzaz.

Cacia's is the authority on pizzaz pie, with its creamy American cheese bubbled and browned to perfection every time. You can buy a slice for $1.30 or cater your next party with a whole pie for $11.50 - just make sure to invite me.

The pickled banana peppers add a warming tang that lends a sort of (out-of-a-jar) brightness to each bite. The fresh tomatoes give it a smack of juiciness to make up for the omission of sauce. Look at this buttery crust. Incredible.

Something about the green on the broccoli pie called to me. It was probably the fact that I hadn't eaten vegetables in nearly 3 days.

The chopped bits of blanched broccoli definitely filled my need for vitamins & minerals. Another slice of crispy, chewy, buttery crust was the perfect vessel to deliver the firm bits of green. Who knew eating healthy could be so delicious?

As if the visit to Cacia's wasn't enough, an order from Primo Hoagies seemed like it would fulfill (almost) all of my Saturday morning, pre-Flyer's game needs.

Primo is an eastern PA-NJ franchise that just recently broke out in the FL market (thank you spring training), but this one here on Ritner, it's the O.G.

They use rolls baked specially by my favorite regional bakery, Liscio's in South Jersey, and their quality is unmatched. I read that each seeded roll is baked "using a technique that is optimal for transport... It gets baked seven-eighths of the way, and then we flash-freeze it. Each franchise has a small convection oven and when it comes out, it's like it's fresh right out of a bakery oven."

And I'm okay with that, because I can attest to that truth.

The crusty roll is by far the best part of these hoagies, but the fresh-slicing of Thumann's deli meats doesn't hurt either. This is the Sicilian with dry cured capacola, sharp prov & natural casing genoa salami. A sure bet to satisfy any hoagie-driven hunger.

So, in conclusion, head to 15th & Ritner with an open mind, an empty stomach, and about $20. You'll leave wishing you lived right around the corner and that eating like a king didn't require so much exercise.